Relevant and even prescient commentary on news, politics and the economy.

Sunday Morning News Clips

Manual Transmission Foils Car Theft

“A press release from the Nashville police department said they arrested two teenagers last Wednesday aftr they attempted to carjack two women that day and failed. The teens ultimately failed both times, with the second being because the car had a manual transmission. They had to run away on foot.”

We Reserve the Right to Refuse Service . . .

A British woman tried to place an order at her local McDonald’s while on horseback, but was turned away.

Louise Carter, who lives in Powick, England, made the three-and-a-half-mile journey to nearby Malvern last month, but was rejected by staff citing a strict drive-thru policy.

According to McDonald’s UK, drive-thru lanes are reserved solely for motor vehicles, meaning that horses are out. Bicycles are also prohibited.

The Impact of Higher Temperatures on Economic Growth

“What happens to the economy when it gets hot outside? Despite long-standing assumptions that economic damage from rising global temperatures would be limited to the agricultural sector or developing economies, this Economic Brief presents evidence that higher summer temperatures hurt a variety of business sectors in the United States.”

Congressman Chris Collins arrested

Rep. Chris Collins, R-N.Y. was arrested Wednesday morning on federal insider trading charges, law enforcement officials said.

Why You Should Care About Unions

The average person in the United States has essentially zero power in society. That’s why millions have organized into unions over the years. But the slow decline of unionism in the United States should concern you even if you’re not in one.

Busting the Myth of Immigrant Crime

“My national analysis last year detailed the startling fact that Whites living in suburban, small-town, and rural areas surrounded by other Whites are in much more danger of violent and premature death, including suicide, homicide, gun fatality, drug overdose, and related “deaths of despair” than Whites living in or around multiracial cities. Whites show worse social trends than non-Whites, and Whites in remote exurban and rural areas show by far the worst trends and highest violent death rates of all. Despite Trump’s and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ baseless condemnations, “sanctuary cities” that adopt pro-immigrant protections are especially safe for Whites.”

The Nastiest Feud in Science

“According to the fossil record, creatures were dying en masse. Mystery solved: An asteroid had crashed into the Earth, spewing iridium and pulverized rock dust around the globe and wiping out most life forms.

Gerta Keller argues that the mass extinction was caused not by a wrong-place-wrong-time asteroid collision but by a series of colossal volcanic eruptions in a part of western India known as the Deccan Traps—a theory that was first proposed in 1978 and then abandoned by all but a small number of scientists. Her research, undertaken with specialists around the world and featured in leading scientific journals, has forced other scientists to take a second look at their data. “Gerta uncovered many things through the years that just don’t sit with the nice, simple impact story that Alvarez put together,’ Andrew Kerr, a geochemist at Cardiff University, told me. ‘She’s made people think about a previously near-uniformly accepted model.’”

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Four measures of wages all show renewed stagnation

Four measures of wages all show renewed stagnation

This is something I haven’t looked at in awhile. Since 2013, I have documented the stagnation vs. growth in average and median wages, for example here and here. I last did this in 2017. So let’s take an updated look.

We have a variety of economic data series to track both average and median wages:

Let’s start with nominal wages.  The first graph below shows the YoY% growth in each of the four measures:

While each is noisy, the overall trends are clear:

  • First, in this cycle as in the last, wage growth declined coming out of recessions, then rose as the expansion continued.
  • Second, by most measures nominal growth has picked up somewhat in the last year.
  • Third, secularly there has been an undeniable slowdown in wage growth, which (while not shown) was 4-6% in the late 1990s peak and 3-4% at the 2000s peak. So far in this expansion it is no better than 2.5%-3%.  I believe this is in part due to how weak the employment situation was for so long into this expansion, but also secularly due to shifts in bargaining power, as employers learn over time that employees can be retained with lower and lower annual increases in compensation.

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Real wages decline YoY, while real aggregate payrolls grow

Real wages decline YoY, while real aggregate payrolls grow

With the consumer price report this morning, let’s conclude this weeklong focus on jobs and wages by updating real average and aggregate wages.

Through July 2018, consumer prices are up 2.9% YoY, while wages for non-managerial workers are up 2.7%. Thus real wages have actually declined YoY:

In the longer view, real wages have actually been flat for nearly 2 1/2 years:

Because employment and hours have increased, however, real *aggregate* wage growth has continued to increase:

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“as a”

“as a”

Kwame Anthony Appiah has an op-ed in Sunday’s New York Times dissecting the “as a” locution, in which one first announces one’s gender, race, sexual orientation, or class position before making an argument during a public discussion.  He interprets it as a claim to represent the entire group defined in the preparatory clause, and explains why this claim is invalid; better you should begin with “speaking for myself”.  But I disagree with his interpretation of what “as a” means; I think it communicates speaking from rather than speaking for.

From my experience, “as a” is an acknowledgment that one’s view of the world is limited by one’s background and identity.  It’s a way to anticipate the criticism that what is being said is not universal or “true” in some objective but unattainable sense.  Of course, that limitation can be valorized in different ways.  If an oppressed identity is being invoked—or even better, an intersectionality of multiple oppressed identities—the partiality of perspective is even a strength, because it brings to the fore experiences and ideas that have historically been marginalized.  By the same token, if one is speaking “as a” member of a dominant identity, the limitations are pernicious because they reinforce what has been unfairly imposed over the same long duration.

From an epistemological perspective, the immediate problem is that the “as a” formulation conflates two different consequences of the speaker being positioned in the world rather than above or outside it.  One has to do with differences of experience, the other with proclivity to believe.

 

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June 2018 JOLTS report evidence of both excellent jobs market and taboo against raising wages

June 2018 JOLTS report evidence of both excellent jobs market and taboo against raising wages

Yesterday’s JOLTS report remained excellent, suffering only in comparison to last month:

  • Hires were just below their all-time high of one month ago
  • Quits were just below their all-time high of one month ago
  • Total separations made a new 17-year high
  • Openings were just below their all-time high of two months ago
  • Layoffs and discharges rose to their average level over the past two years

In short, the JOLTS report for June confirmed the excellent employment report of one month ago.

So let’s update where the report might tell us we are in the cycle, remaining mindful of the fact that we only have 18 years of data.

Let’s start with the simple metric of “hiring leads firing.” Here’s the long term relationship since 2000, quarterly:

Here is the monthly update for the past two years measured YoY:

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Would Serious Climate Change Mitigation Policy Increase World Hunger?

Would Serious Climate Change Mitigation Policy Increase World Hunger?

That’s the finding of a recent study published in Nature Climate Change, “Risk of Increased Food Insecurity under Stringent Global Climate Change Mitigation Policy” by an international team of 22 researchers.  (Coauthorship like this is why god created et al.)  The abstract has made the rounds of the blogosphere, including Marginal Revolution, which is where I found it.

The article reports an integrated assessment model (IAM) exercise in which various scenarios are run, each consisting of a climate piece (how agriculture will be affected by climate change) and a climate policy piece (how steep a carbon tax is imposed and how it impacts production and consumption).  More tax, less climate change and vice versa.  The unsurprising result is that, if the tax is universal and large it will raise food prices, putting millions more people at risk of hunger.

But where does all this extra money collected in carbon taxes go?  That was not addressed: “In most models, carbon tax revenue stays outside of agricultural sectors both on the producer and consumer sides, and is not properly redistributed to affected people.”  That’s all they say about carbon revenues, but it’s enough to explain why climate policy is portrayed as a threat to the world’s poor.  In any sensible approach, carbon taxes or moneys collected from carbon permit auctions are returned to the people who pay them in a progressive manner, so those with the lowest incomes come out ahead.  (They get back more in rebates than they pay in higher prices.)  The simplest way to do this is with an equal per capita dividend.

I did a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation of the effect of a global carbon price rebated via an equal lump sum payment everywhere.  For every dollar of this price, $12.5 billion is effectively transferred from upper to lower income countries.  (Details will appear in my climate change book when it appears next year.)  Of course, there are large political and administrative problems to overcome in setting up such a system, but they are not insurmountable, especially since higher income countries can decide (or negotiate) how to divvy up carbon revenues between those destined for national versus international rebates.

So, yes, a global carbon tax as modeled by the Nature Climate Change team would make the poor poorer, but the one additional tweak of recycling the money on an equal per capita basis would lead to the opposite effect.

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Empires, Past and Present

by Joseph Joyce

Empires, Past and Present

Economists rarely write about “empires,” unless they are referring to historical examples such as the Roman empire. But Thomas Hauner of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis,  Branko Milanovic of the Graduate Center of City University of New York and Suresh Naidu of Columbia University have presented a study of empires using criteria drawn from an economics classic, John Hobson’s Imperialism (1902). The same criteria can be used to examine whether any empires exist today.

Hobson was not a Marxist, but his work greatly influenced later Marxist writers who wrote about imperialism, including Vladimir Lenin, Rudolf Hilferding and Rosa Luxemburg. Hobson believed that there was chronic underconsumption in advanced capitalist countries due to unequal distributions of income. This lowered the return on domestic investment, and as a result the owners of financial capital turned to foreign markets where returns would be higher. These investors relied on their governments to guarantee the safety of their foreign holdings from seizure.

Hauner, Milanvic and Naidu demonstrate that there was a high degree of inequality within the advanced capitalist countries in the late 19th century. The foreign assets held by wealthy investors in Britain and France expanded greatly during this period, and these assets generated rates of return higher than those available from domestic investments. They also present evidence of a linkage between the accumulation of foreign assets and militarization that led to World War I. These results are consistent with Hobson’s work.

Hobson’s empires established positive net international investment positions (NIIP) and received income from these foreign investments. The payments appear in the current account of the balance of payments as “net primary income.” This component of the current account records the difference between payments received by domestic residents for providing productive resources, such as their labor, financial resources or land, to foreigners minus the payments made to foreigners for their productive resources made available to the domestic economy. For most countries, receipts and payments on financial assets are the largest component of their net primary income.

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How close are we to “full employment”?

How close are we to “full employment”?

As I pointed out Friday, there was a lot of good news underneath the headline jobs gain — primarily in labor force participation and underemployment. So, how close are we to “full employment,” based on the last few expansions?

Let’s start with the simple, straightforward unemployment rate of 3.9%. This is already considerably below the best reading of the 2000s expansion, and only 0.1% above the best reading of the 1990s expansion, which was tied two months ago in May:

But of course that isn’t the end of it. Much attention has been paid to the U-6 underemployment rate, which reached a new expansion low of 7.5%.

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Real Wages Decline

Real Wages Decline

Trump and his allies have been loudly bragging about the second quarterly GDP growth rate of 4.1%.  It is quite possible that a growth rate of this sort may be maintained for another quarter or so, given the large fiscal stimulus put in place at the beginning of the year. How curious it is that that coincided with the peak of the US stock market, at least as measured by the Dow.

However, this is seriously overblown for the simplest of reasons: the rate of inflation is rising.  It has now gotten to rising at a 2.9% rate while nominal wages are rising at a 2.8%.  So real wages have declined by a 0.1% rate.  Real wages rose throughout nearly all of the Obama presidency, except for a couple of quarters.  But if one pays attention to Trump and his allies, one would have no idea of this development. Needless to say, as the price increases from the trade war kick in, this situation is  not likely to improve.

Barkley Rosser

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